Rebellious Spirits: Audacious Tales of Drinking on the Wrong Side of the Law by Ruth Ball
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.
The British have for thousands of years have been inventing various ways of getting drunk. We have had fruit wines, Even the Romans had vineyards. We have made apples and pears into ciders and perry's made all types of grains into beers. For a lot of people, alcohol was the only safe way to get fluids as often the water wasn't safe to drink. To really get a kick from the drink though it needs to be stronger, much much stronger.
There are various claims as to who invented distilling, some say the Egyptians, others the Greeks, but it was brought to the UK by French monks. The products of those first stills were supposed to be used for medicinal purposes, however, it didn't take long for the locals to realise there were much better uses than trying to make yourselves better. It was always a low key thing though until in 1643 the Long Parliament decided to introduce excise duty on a selection of things including spirits. This tax was universally hated and rather than become legal, lots of stills went underground and it was the beginning of a long battle against the government and the beginning of the whisky industry in Scotland and Ireland.
That most English of drinks, the G&T, is actually Dutch. Bought over when William of Orange invaded and became our monarch, we adopted it and made it our own, so much so that around one in five houses sold drams in one part of London. The political elite was watching the population slowly become drunk all the time and rather than seeing it as the symptom of poverty they saw it as the cause. So they tried to ban it. As you can imagine, it didn't quite go to plan, so they passed the Gin Act and that didn't help either…
The Irish had been distilling for a while now, but when the taxman decided that they wanted the revenue from this, then they fought back. They realised that it was easier to move poitin rather than grain around the country, devised methods to hide their little pot stills and generally didn't really want to assist the authorities in any way at all. They had ingenious ways of hiding the small stills, sometimes the easiest way was in plain sight! On top of all that, they had to try and stop the smuggling; whole coastal communities including the clergy would ensure that goods were snuck in under the noses of the excise men. With the advent of the Second World War, the government clamped down on the production of spirits diverting grain to the food needs of the country. But if you wanted a drink and happened to know the right people, you could still get your hands on a bottle. Not legally of course and the substances that were added were included with the spirits that really shouldn't have been in some cases.
Work is the curse of the drinking classes - Oscar Wilde
Ruth Ball has managed to take a wide-ranging variety of stories of alcohol and distil them into this delightful little book. I found these tales are entertaining and written with a wry sense of humour. On top of this entertaining read, she has made a collection of recipes based on the originals that were almost certainly more fun trying than making and must have been the source of a few hangovers too. If you like sitting down every now and again with a glass of something to hand, then this is a perfect accompaniment to it.
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